Child and Forced Marriage in South Sudan

In addition to barriers to education, child brides… are at a higher risk of life-threatening complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Statistics prove that younger girls’ vulnerability to prolonged labor, obstetric fistula, or maternal death is significantly higher than older women whose bodies are fully developed. South Sudan currently has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world, approximately 2,054 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births.

The UN places the number of girls under 18 married each year at 14 million.

Christian College Fired Female Employee For Getting Pregnant Out of Wedlock Then Offered a Job to Her Fiancé, Because That Is Not Inconsistent at All

1) It’s exactly like it sounds.

2) This pretty much dishes any protest San Diego Christian College might make that they fired Teri James because of sexual immorality, not because she got pregnant. Prepare to get slapped upside your collective head by Gloria Allred, SDCC.

"Solar Suitcase" Saving Moms, Babies During Childbirth

U.S. Doctor Laura Stachel has invented a portable kit of solar-powered equipment that allows doctors in Nigeria (and elsewhere) to more safely deliver babies when the power goes out in their hospitals:

[Stachel] witnessed countless other times when the lives of mothers and babies were at risk simply because of a lack of reliable electricity. Pregnant women would arrive at the hospital with severe complications, but without adequate light to treat them, procedures had to be compromised or delayed until daylight. Some women were even turned away.

“I realized that my skills as an obstetrician-gynecologist were utterly useless (without) something as basic as light and electricity,” Stachel said.

Stachel said midwives in Nigeria use all kinds of makeshift lighting when they deliver babies: kerosene lanterns, candles, even cell phones.

“That’s not adequate light for maternity care,” she said. “If somebody is hemorrhaging, if a baby needs resuscitation, you need to have directed light.”

Amazing, inspiring story.

The Biggest (And Smallest) Pay Gaps

More numbers, this time showing income disparity between men and women by occupation. Cheat sheet: if you are a woman, do not go into sales; do go into health or medicine as anything but a doctor.

Part of the gap in pay is driven by choices, even within single job categories. Among physicians, for example, women are more likely than men to choose lower-paid specialties (though this does not explain all of the pay gap among doctors).

And among all workers, women are more likely than men to take a significant time off from work to raise children, and they tend to be re-hired at lower wages than their counterparts who remained in the workforce.

This suggests to me that if employers don’t want to disadvantage themselves long-term by perpetuating a lack of gender diversity they should swallow the short-term costs of better accommodating working women who want to start families.

Via The Jane Dough.

♀ A Babel Fish For My Oppressing Ears


Note:If you visited the site early enough on Thursday you probably read a different version of this post with a different title and a different message. Shortly after I published that original post, a friend pointed out to me its inherently oppressive tone, and the resulting conversation persuaded me that it needed to be rewritten. If you read the original post and felt offended, hurt, or marginalized because of it, I am very sorry and apologize.

Last week several of my feminist friends and inspirations were batting around the “p” word online. No, not that “p” word. Or that one.

“Privilege”, okay? That’s the one I’m talking about.

First Suzannah Paul critiqued the privilege of the Emergent Church, then Krista Dalton questioned our collective ability to engage in reasoned debate without resorting to the “p” word. (Krista later linked to this article by Amaryah Shaye Armstrong about retiring “privilege” from our vocabulary entirely.) Rachel Held Evans, typically, wrote the response I thought was the best, about exercising grace toward people of privilege (in moderation).

Some of these thoughts resulted in mildly-heated debates in the halfway-behind-the-scenes of Twitter, but it all seemed to wind down into hugs and affirmations eventually. Watching it all (mostly) from the sidelines, I interpreted the fervor as a sign that everyone really does want the truth(s) about privilege and oppression in our culture to be foremost. Some, though, also worry about packaging the truth in the form most likely to be palatable to the privileged while others think the onus should be on the privileged to accept the truth without being coddled.

For the uninitiated, which I think—and hope—some of you are, “privilege” in the lexicon of the activist community means sort of what it sounds like it means. While in everday language “privilege” can refer to an earned status or ability—“a license to drive is a privilege” was one of the favorites when I was in high school—those engaged in the long war against kyriarchy mean it in the sense of an unearned advantage bestowed by an accident of birth or environment (race, gender, sexuality, ability, etc.) and rarely chosen or achieved (social or economic status, religion).

Whatever the word, though, the point is that some people have it harder than others through no fault of their own. Life in our culture is easier, for example, if you are white not black, straight not gay, or male not female. You might not agree with this statement, and arguing about it goes beyond the scope of this post. But since this is a feminist website, I’ll give three examples of how women in particular lack “privilege” in our society:

  1. They are more likely to be raped. No one, I think, contests this. The overwhelming majority of rape victims are women, and this means that every woman lives with a certain amount of fear and risk of sexual assault. Many try to shake off the effects of this fear, choosing to assume their own safety at all times. Others, understandably, decide to take certain precautions against rape, such as not walking alone in public at night or staying sober at parties where everyone else is intoxicated.[1] Regardless of how any individual woman responds to the near-constant low-level fear of rape, the point is that, by and large, men do not have to worry about it.
  2. Women (at least, cisgender women) have the biological equipment for growing new humans. If a woman wants to bring a new human into the world and form a family with it (and, potentially, other humans of her choosing), the cheapest and fastest way for her to do this is to grow it herself. This results in a certain amount of expense and inconvenience, including inconvenience to her employer, who may penalize her professionally in some way, labor laws notwithstanding. Also, the knowledge that women may choose to become pregnant and give birth leads many employers to—again, illegally—discriminate against women both in hiring and in remuneration.
  3. For a variety of reasons, women are under-represented in positions of power, such as government and management or executive positions in business. This means that decisions that directly and indirectly affect women and their welfare are more likely to be made by men than by women, potentially creating a vicious circle of intentional and unintentional oppression in both the public and private spheres.

Few people would probably dispute any or much of the above. “Privilege”, then—or in this specific case, “male privilege”—is the shorthand feminists use to sum up these and many other facts about the advantage men have over women. Not uncommonly, feminists and other types of equality-seekers will tell less enlightened people, “You need to check your privilege”, in response to a statement or action perceived to be discriminatory, bigoted, or oppressive. As confrontational as this sounds, the speaker usually intends to educate and elevate, not condemn; the statement is supposed to communicate not, “You are sexist/racist/ableist”, but “What you did/said was sexist/racist/ableist, and you should think about how your innate advantage led you to behave insensitively.”

Unfortunately, “Check your privilege” sounds more confrontational than it is, and, lacking the necessary context for interpreting it, non-insiders tend to just hear “You’re a bad person.” Knowing they are not “bad” people, they then feel free to dismiss the sentiment and the speaker. Activists tend to perceive this as willfully obtuse, because to them, privilege is neutral; only behavior is good or bad. But, in U.S. vernacular at least, “privilege” carries the baggage of the Revolutionary War, when (in our own mythos) ordinary, common folk threw off the tyranny of privileged aristocrats and founded a society based on equality. Telling someone they have privilege conjures vague images of undeserving fat cats and threatens to dispel the deep-seated American belief that everything we have or achieve results from our own merit and hard work. I sympathize with people who don’t like the word; it is fighting an uphill battle against deep-seated cultural values and a plain understanding of its definition orthogonally opposed to the meaning with which activists have imbued it.

Still, as a member of nearly every power group in our culture—male, white, comparatively weatlthy, cisgender, straight, educated—the wealth of meaning at the heart of the word “privilege” applies to me and many of the people I know. As someone who considers myself a feminist and an ally of women, I have to be willing to hear that word—and other potentially uncomfortable things—said about myself and my peers from time to time without getting angry or storming off the playing field. Bristle though I may (and do) when someone calls me privileged, I must insert a virtual Babel fish into my ears and realize the speaker is only trying to remind me that I have no idea what it feels like to be oppressed.

Photo credit: JD Hancock via Photo Pin cc.

  1. To be clear: I am not suggesting that women should have to take these precautions, only that many do.  ↩

Gingrey's Bad Science and Bad Logic

When I responded to Rep. Phil Gingrey’s “legitimate rape” remarks on Saturday, I focused on the subtle misogyny underlying the statement. William Saletan at Slate wants to make sure we don’t miss the bad science behind Gingrey’s claims that stress can cause infertility and that doctors frequently tell women to “Just relax. Drink a glass of wine.”

If Gingrey is telling this to his patients—and prescribing alcohol for it—he’s a quack. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “While chronic stress, for example from extreme exposure to famine or war, may decrease a woman’s ability to conceive, there is no scientific evidence that adrenaline, experienced in an acute stress situation, has an impact on ovulation.” The American Society for Reproductive Medicine agrees: “There isn’t any proof that stress causes infertility.” Another infertility organization, Resolve, says “stress does not cause infertility.” Dr. Gingrey might also benefit from reading this 2010 paper in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology: “Acute stress may induce ovulation in women.”

Saletan also isn’t letting Gingrey slide on his reinterpretation of Akin’s original statement as a warning against false rape accusations by teenage girls afraid to admit they had consensual sex:

Really? That isn’t how Akin explained his remark. On Aug. 20, a day after the gaffe, Akin went on Mike Huckabee’s radio show. Huckabee asked Akin: “What did you mean by ‘legitimate rape’? Were you attempting to say forcible rape?” Akin replied: “Yeah, I was talking about forcible rape.” If that’s truly what Akin meant, then he was using the term legitimate to suggest that any woman impregnated by rape must have suffered statutory rape, not forcible rape.

As I’ve mentioned frequently, I grew up Republican and retain strong nostalgia and sympathy for the party. So I believe I’m decently-positioned to be fair in thinking this incident illustrates that many of the GOP establishment have gotten lost in uncritical rhetoric and thereby become incapable of not sounding like racist, misogynist, homophobic fear-mongers scrabbling to retain their dwindling vestiges of power.

Because of my also—by this time—well-known belief that most people are pretty decent and have good intentions, I think the Republican party needs to take a good hard look at itself and get educated about the true needs and perspectives of women, gays, and minorities, very quickly.

Kenya Hospital Imprisons New Mothers With No Money

Two mothers who live in a mud-wall and tin-roof slum a short walk from the maternity hospital, which is affiliated with the Nairobi City Council, told The Associated Press that Pumwani [Hospital] wouldn’t let them leave after delivering their babies. The bills the mothers couldn’t afford were $60 and $160. Guards would beat mothers with sticks who tried to leave without paying, one of the women said.

Margaret Anyoso, the woman who owed $160, typically earns $5 or less a day. You don’t have to believe in universal health care to see how wrong this is. We abolished debtor’s prisons for a reason.

Via Jezebel.

Ireland to Allow Abortions in Life-Threatening Cases

In a statement released by the Irish health department, the government affirmed that it will draft legislation that “should provide the clarity and certainty in relation to the process of deciding when a termination of pregnancy is permissible, that is where there is a real and substantial risk to the life, as opposed to the health, of the woman and this risk can only be averted by the termination of her pregnancy.”

When making this kind of choice, saving the life of the definite person seems like a safer bet than saving the life of the theoretical person.

High Maternal Mortality Rates for Black Moms Still a Mystery

The harsh reality is there is no national standard or federal requirement on reporting maternal deaths and scant national data. The last national data was compiled in 2007 by the CDC’s Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System, which uses data from 52 U.S. reporting areas—50 states, New York City and Washington, D.C.

The surveillance system indicated wide disparities in pregnancy-related mortality ratios in the U.S., with the pregnancy-related ratio for white women at 11 deaths per 100,000 live births and 34.8 deaths per 100,000 live births for black women. The ratio was 15.7 deaths per 100,000 live births for women of other races.

Shocking statistics, and the cause appears to be so multi-faceted as to defy easy analysis.

Jewish Views on Reproductive Technology

Part 1 of a planned series from Ellen Painter Dollar. I don’t know that I would base any of my ideology or beliefs on this information, but it’s still interesting. For example:

Judaism does not perceive fertilized eggs as fully human in the way that the Catholic church and many other Christian traditions do. Thus, Judaism does not share Christian concerns that techniques such as IVF and PGD manipulate and/or destroy human embryos. Jewish authorities have laid out very specific timelines of fertilization, implantation, gestation, and birth, making determinations at each stage as to the moral status of the developing baby and the relationship between the baby’s moral status and the mother’s.